Starch residues on grinding stones in private collections: a study of morahs from the tropical rainforests of NE Queensland

Judith Field, Richard Cosgrove, Richard Fullagar, Braddon Lance

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    Morahs are incised grinding stones from the tropical rainforests of Far North Queensland. They are made from grey slate, are roughly ovate to rectangular in shape, and have distinctive incised parallel grooves running transversely across the body of the stone. The region in which they are found is also known for the processing of toxic starchy plants by Aborigines. The process involves a relatively complex processing schedule, including cooking, pounding and leaching before consumption. Ethnographic studies have documented the processing of a number of rainforest species with starchy kernels in which morahs may have been used for pounding these kernels before leaching. A selection of morahs from private collections were analysed to determine their potential for starch residue studies. The results show that incised grooves act as residue traps for starch. In some cases the starch recovered from these grindstones enabled starch identifications of economically important endemic rainforest species, particularly Beilschmiedia bancroftii (Yellow walnut) and Endiandra insignis (Hairy Walnut). The uneven surface created by the incised grooves may facilitate the breakup of the starchy kernels, and this proposal is supported by use-wear studies on similar artefacts where soft plant processing is indicated.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationArchaeological science under a microscope
    Subtitle of host publicationstudies in residue and ancient DNA analysis in honour of Thomas H. Loy
    EditorsMichael Haslam, Gail Robertson, Alison Crowther, Sue Nugent, Luke Kirkwood
    Place of PublicationActon, A.C.T.
    PublisherANU E Press
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Print)9781921536847
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Publication series

    NameTerra australis monograph series
    PublisherANU E Press

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright retained by author(s). Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author and according to publisher conditions. For further reproduction rights please contact the publisher at


    • morah
    • grindstone
    • slate
    • starch residues
    • North Queensland rainforests
    • archaeology


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